In the vast array of popular music genres, African-Americans typically set the precedent in each category.
Singers such as Aretha Franklin (soul), Michael Jackson (pop), B.B. King (blues), Tina Turner (rock n’ roll), Lil’ Wayne (rap) and Mary J. Blige (R&B), are the centerpieces for their genre. But there’s one category where African-Americans are seldom recognized and least listened to by the race: country music.
A popular American musical style, country music began in the rural southern states in the early 1920’s. Country music can be traced from western cowboy and southeastern American folk music.
Typically consisting of ballads and dancing tunes with harmonic sounds of guitars, banjoes, fiddles and harmonicas, country music is one of the most popular genres and in 2009 voted the most listened to, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
So why aren’t more African-Americans drawn to country music?
“It’s a boring style that generally doesn’t attract the common black kid,” said Kennedy Selks, a second-year finance student from Atlanta. “To me, the typical country artist and listener seems like a closeted racists that typically hate black people and is probably a staunch republican.”
Though musical pioneers like Charlie Pride and Ray Charles broke racial barriers in the industry, with nearly 35 consecutive No. 1 hits between them, the influx of new-and-rising African-American country artists continuing the tradition has come to a near standstill.
“Though the words and overall theme of country music is the same as R&B or soul, the image is more prejudicially geared towards white people,” said Jemesha Martin, a fourth-year psychology student from Birmingham, Ala.
“When it comes to white artists like, Teena Marie, Robin Thicke and even Justin Timberlake, participating in mainstream black genres, they are easily accepted. But when a black artist wants to crossover to country, they aren’t welcomed.”
Country music has remained the most homogeneous of all music styles and has remained closed to most outside races, according to the Black Country Music Association. Formed in Texas in 1989, the BCMA remains dedicated in increasing the number of black performers in the genre. They promise to provide the necessary tools for artists to pursue their individuality.
One of the most common misconceptions is that African-Americans haven’t played a roll in the success of country music. In fact, Jimmie Rodgers, known as the father of country music, learned to play the guitar from the black laborers he worked with.
“Of course African-Americans play a huge role in all genres of music–especially country,” said De’Nard Williams, a third-year music management student from Miami.
“Blacks have helped cultivate the image and theme of country music since its beginning. It’s just that the industry has turned it into a white-person-only type genre that has basically excluded its founders and creators.”